Help me plan my cross-country road trip!

This summer, I’ll be helping a friend move, and this will involve a cross-country road trip. We’re planning to start in Durango, do a clockwise semicircle through Arizona, Nevada and Utah, drive up to Yellowstone, and then head for Boston via I-90 with a detour south through Indianapolis and Columbus, because we’d rather drive through those cities than through Chicago.

Where should we go and what should we see? We both have geology/paleontology training, so we were planning on camping and visiting a lot of the state and national parks and so forth, but we’re open to any sort of recommendations.

Heading east from Yellowstone, I’d recommend stopping at the Cody Nite Rodeo.

Spend time in the Black Hills of South Dakota - Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, the Black Hills Reptile Gardens, Custer State Park, the Badlands.

Be amused by all the Wall Drug signs, but unless you’re badly in need of free ice water, don’t bother stopping. (Note: There’s a Wall Drug sign on I-80/90 in Indiana!)

I don’t know at what point you’re thinking of moving your operation south off I-90 toward I-70 (upon which Indianapolis and Columbus lay). I recommend doing that on I-29, which will take you from Sioux Falls, SD to Kansas City, passing through the Omaha area along the way. You might enjoy the Shrine to Music Museum in Vermillion, SD, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, IA, and I’ve heard great things about the Omaha Zoo, but have not had opportunity to visit it. In Kansas City, go see a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium, visit the Steamship Arabia Museum, the World War I Museum and the Negro League Baseball Museum.

Then head east on I-70, where you’ll hit St. Louis - visit the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, the Gateway Arch and Westward Expansion Museum, and the Zoo, which is free. As a family traveller, I love the City Museum, I’m not sure that adults without kids would enjoy it, but it really is an amazing place, just to get a look at the crazy climbing structure outside, made from salvaged junk.

In Indianapolis, you can ride a lap on the Indy 500 speedway (slowly, in a tour bus) and check out the Indy 500 Museum. I also like the Rhythm Discovery Center, a hands-on museum dedicated to percussion music.

In Columbus, you can tour a replica of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria. The COSI Science Center is top-notch, and get yourself some Graeter’s ice cream.

Best of luck - there’s nothing like a good road trip!

If you’re into planes, you can stop at Dayton and see the Air Force Museum. All kinds of cool WWII and Cold War military aircraft.

I’ll throw this out as an idea. Consider traveling through southern Canada, above the Great Lakes. Lots of great parks and vistas. And then you could stop at Montreal when you get further east.

Sadly, you can no longer tour the Santa Maria. The riverfront through downtown has just gone through a multi-year beautification project, and dragging this eyesore to an undisclosed location was part of it.

On the up side, the Scioto mile park is now beautiful piece of park land and if one is passing through in the summer, there will very likely be a festival of some sort going on in the area. COSI and the Zoo are rated at the top of their respective categories, along with the library but I am not sure why a visitor would be interested in that and the main branch is closed for renovations anyways. Graeter’s or Jeni’s ice cream is excellent.

When passing through Dayton, consider the Air Force museum if you have even a passing fancy for aviation. It is free and it is a stunning collection of aircraft.

Boyo Jim:

I recommend against it. I did a cross-Canada drive once, and the stretch above the Great Lakes, between Winnipeg and Toronto, was among the most mind-numbingly boring drives I’ve ever had to do. I agree that it’s pretty scenic, but I like my scenery occasionally broken up by cities with touristy activities, and quite frankly, there ain’t no there there.

If you want to stop and camp or hike in beautiful natural parks, there’s plenty of there there.

Utah native here:

-Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah is an essential “must see in your lifetime.” There’s a hiking trail called Mossy Cave just outside of Tropic, Utah. Ask around and take this short hike to the natural waterfall basin/cave surrounded by orange rock spires with wind-windows in them.

-In the same area is Kodachrome park. Not as busy as surrounding areas and wonderful.

-Kanab and the Henry Mountains, also in So Utah, are breathtaking. Kanab is crowded with the rock climbing and mountain bike crowd, but the Henry’s are vast, desolate, and resemble the Grand Canyon on a smaller scale.

-If you’re morbid: in the Henrieville area (outside of Bryce) is a dirt road to a bridge where some drunken boys drove off the bridge and into a chasm in the 1950s. Instead of retrieving the truck and bodies they were left there; you can still see the truck in the side of the canyon (but the skeletons are gone).

-I’m so-so on Zion National Park, but a lot of people love it. I think Bryce is more stunning, but that’s me :slight_smile:

Let me know if you’d like more suggestions for experiences that are off the beaten path.

I have GOT to get back to Utah. When a Utah native has all these recommendations and doesn’t even get to Arches, which is possibly the most beautiful national park I’ve been to, I just know I’ve been missing some pretty special stuff.

If you’re into technology I’ll second the Indianapolis Speedway Museum which is cheeep and the Air Force Museum in Dayton which is free. The AFM has everything from a real Wright Flyer to space capsules to a Blackbird to a piece of the Berlin wall. Both are near interstates

I would love more recommendations!

I also prefer Bryce over Zion for some reason. I think Zion is just off on its mixture of sandstone and trees to me. ETA: although Zion is definitely worth driving through and seeing once.

If you’re going east enough in Arizona, I found the Gila National Forest in New Mexico to be a surprising find – decent cliff dwellings and uncrowded campgrounds.

If you’re going westward on I-10 toward Tucson, make sure to stop at the rest stop near Wilcox and Dragoon – it is build on the side of a mountain with huge tumbled boulders on all sides of the road and rest stop.

Go to Moab, Delicate Arch in Arches for sunset, Mesa Arch in Canyonlands for sunrise.

Plan on spending a lot of time in Yellowstone. It is big and the driving is slow (at least in summer - lots of stoppages due to bison sightings). We spent two days there and still missed a lot. But I loved what we did see: tons of geysers, rainbow-colored hot springs, steam plumes, etc. Such a neat landscape.

+1 on Zion and Bryce. Bryce is less crowded and easier to get around in summer (no cars allowed in Zion in the summer). But they are both really neat. My favorite part of Zion was actually outside of the valley - when heading out the east entrance you go through the Checkerboard Mesa. We loved walking around and climbing up the hills and rock formations.

I don’t know if it’s on your route, but I consider the Valley of Fire state park near Las Vegas to be a hidden gem. Really awesome rock formations and hardly anyone there. Of course that may have been because it was August and 110 degrees. But we still really enjoyed it.

I loved Wall Drug! Sure, it was kitschy, but unique. Besides, they have housemade donuts!

In Mt Carmel Jct between Zion and Bryce there is a restaurant that serves “Ho-Made Pies” (and milks it for all its worth on their billboards).

Cool! It’s fun to share my fave Utah places. All of the following are in the general area of Southern Utah:

-Capitol Reef National Park, outside of Fruita (south-east) is wonderful; for the “real” experience you should hike up a mile or so of switchbacks and get into the back-country to see massive natural bridges over gorges. Few tourists, at least when I was last there about 15 years ago, venture much past the camping ground

The interpretive ranger talks at Capitol are the best I’ve ever attended.

-There are some great hikes up and down the Escalante River. Cool box canyons and rock squeezes.

**Stuff you probably already know, but . . . **
-Don’t go hiking in So. Utah if there is any chance of rain. People are regularly killed by flash floods that roar down the lime- and sandstone and fill box canyons. If you get caught in a storm, run to the highest point you can. Thunderheads move in quickly over this territory.

-Carry three times as much water than you think you’ll need for a hike. Buy a contour map and a compass; if you head out to back-country check-in with the nearest ranger station and give them an estimated time of return. People regularly disappear and are often not found.

-Watch for rattlesnakes. Some of the places I’m recommending are infested with rattlers. You may want to carry a snakebite kit.

-Butch Cassidy’s hideout/home is near Centerville. I don’t know if it has become touristy.

-Big Rock Candy Mountain is a great sandstone mountain of varying sandstone hues. When I was a kid there was a fun store of fakey Native American/fossils and some mangy coyotes and mountain lions in cages (let’s hope they don’t have animals there anymore).

-There’s an unexpectedly hip restaurant in Boulder (the Utah one) that serves delicious food. I can’t remember the name of it, but they have border collies wandering about and an attached local artisan store.

A few Central Utah sites:
-Timpanogas Mountain, the tallest mountain in the Wasatch Front, looms over Provo. If you go up and over the mountain you’ll find a beautiful glacier and glacier lake.

-Between Payson and Nephi there’s a gorgeous drive called the “Nebo Loop.” it winds up and through the southern arm of the Wasatch Front (50 miles or so).

Hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with suggestions – I’m having a lot of fun conveying this info.

A final note: Yellowstone is HELL ON EARTH in the summer, especially the Montana approach. You can be caught in 10-mile back-ups while really smart people stop to pet moose and kiss bears. It’s a fantastic place, just be warned it is a difficult summer destination (and don’t kiss any wildlife or jump in a geyser!)

A lot depends on how much time you have to spend on this road trip.

For starters:

  • Mesa Verde not far from Durango, is way cool.

If you have a lot of time:

  • As geologists, I think you would find heading south and linking up with I-40 and then visiting the Petrified Forest (just east of Holbrook) and the Meteor crater (just west of Winslow) pretty fascinating.
  • you can also “stand on the corner” in Winslow (but if you don’t recognize the line, then there really isn’t much point to spending too much time in Winslow :wink:

Again, as geologists, if you haven’t seen it, then I think the Grand Canyon is a must. Since you’re doing the “clockwise” loop, I would recommend heading to the North Rim to avoid the summer crowds at the south rim.

From there, complete the canyon trio:

  • Zion canyon
  • Bryce canyon

If you have a lot of time:

  • After visiting Bryce, continue on highway 12 through Tropic, Escalante, Boulder, and down through Grover. This is one spectacularly scenic drive.

If you happen to like petroglyphs, after Bryce, instead of heading directly over to I-15, continue north on 89 until you reach I-70. Take I-70 west and you will get to Fremont Indian state park. It’s right off the interstate, and there’s a couple short hikes to see a ton of glyphs.

As you head up to Wyoming and Yellowstone, stop in Jackson Hole. You can take the (ski) tram up (even in summer), and hike around a bit on the summit. As paleontologists,
you will be interested to know that fossils are found way up at that 11,000’ (?) elevation (I personally found some there !)

After Yellowstone as you start to head east, you can either head north into Montana to catch I-90, or take 14 to head more directly east to eventually reach I-90 (in WYO).
After Gillette, when you get to Moorcroft, head north on 14 to get to Devil’s Tower (I can even recommend a cool lodge for you to stay at “in” the park). As geologists, I think you will enjoy seeing the tower. (and you can also check out the UFO landing site around back :wink:

Continuing east, if you’re headed to see Mt. Rushmore, rather than continue on I-90 all the way to Rapid City, if you have the time, take 85 south to Deadwood (cool town), and then 385 down to Keystone and Mt. Rushmore.

Lots of great ideas here. My advice is to spend as little time as possible in the nesrby states so that you have more time farther from home.

Mesa Verde is worth the trip. For really off the road (you’ll need to camp if staying the night), try Chaco Canyon. There’s a campground and a visitor’s center, and a lot of pueblo ruins. A Canyon de Chelly tour by 4-wheel drive is worthwhile, but a rim drive is good if you can’t afford it. Acama is nice to see. You have to park down below and a driver will take you up to the pueblo, which is still occupied. Once there, you can do a walking tour. There are fantastic slot canyons in the Southwest, but you need to be at least somewhat fit to hike them.

South of Billings is Pictograph Cave, which only opened a few years ago. Then on to Custer Battlefield State Park. Further east, make sure to take the side trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. As someone interested in geology, you’ll love it (you can hike around the base very easily), along with the aforementioned Badlands of SD. I agree that you should skip Wall Drug unless you’re completely entranced by cheap China-made chachkies and crowds of desperate people looking for something edible.

In Minnesota is Pipestone National Monument (about 25 mi. north of I-90), where Indians mined the material for their pipes.

I recall passing those signs, but wasn’t really enthralled by the thought of a pie made by a ho. :smiley:

That last rest-stop is Texas Canyon. I passed through when we did not have time to stop & look. Or maybe we would have if we’d known in advance. It’s really amazing. I wondered about the name: